Home » How we knew the Florida seat Democrats just flipped was one to watch

How we knew the Florida seat Democrats just flipped was one to watch

Navy veteran Tom Keen’s victory in Tuesday night’s special election was both a huge shot in the arm for Florida Democrats and another black eye for Ron DeSantis—and Daily Kos Elections saw it coming half a year ago.

In fact, we first wrote about this race before it even was a race: Despite appointing state Rep. Fred Hawkins as president of a public college (a position he was in no way qualified for), DeSantis refused to schedule an election to fill the new vacancy he’d just created. We knew the 35th District was swingy turf, but DeSantis’ foot-dragging was quite the tell.

Whenever Republicans try to avoid setting a special election, you know something’s up. It happened just last year in New Hampshire, when the GOP tried to cancel a special to resolve a race that had ended in an exact tie, and instead just seat the Republican candidate. The gambit failed, the election proceeded as planned, and Democrat Chuck Grassie romped in the do-over by a 12-percentage-point margin.

But that wasn’t the only sign something was stirring. After several dispiriting election cycles in a row, it had grown all too tempting for Democrats to write off Florida. But in May of last year, Democrats scored a major upset in Jacksonville, the state’s largest city: Former TV news anchor Donna Deegan won the race for mayor—a post that Republicans had dominated for 30 years—even though DeSantis had carried Jacksonville by double digits and endorsed her opponent.

DeSantis’ midterm landslide may have scared a lot of folks off, but it was a mistake to conclude—based on just a single election—that Florida had abruptly turned a deep shade of red. After all, Michigan didn’t suddenly become bluer than New York just because Gretchen Whitmer won her race for governor by a larger margin than Kathy Hochul won hers.

And despite his cockiness, DeSantis was signaling his anxiety about the GOP’s prospects for holding the 35th District, a slice of suburban turf outside Orlando. Those signals crescendoed when he finally scheduled the special election for the day after the first contest in the Republican presidential race. Tom Keen knew why.

“Our governor decided he didn’t want to be embarrassed the day before, when he’s going to be in Iowa for the Iowa caucuses,” Keen charged.

All of this compelled us to act, just as we had in that New Hampshire race. Daily Kos endorsed Keen right after he won the Democratic nomination, and our stalwart community once again opened their wallets and provided him with exactly the sort of grassroots support he needed to knock the smirk off DeSantis’ mug. DeSantis, it turned out, got to be embarrassed both the day of and the day after Iowa.

More importantly, Tuesday’s result shows that Florida Democrats are getting their mojo back. Thanks in key part to gerrymandered maps, they still face a deep hole in the legislature, but following Keen’s triumph, they now need just five more flips to break the GOP’s supermajority in the state House.

At Daily Kos, we’ve always played the long game. We’ll keep fighting however long it takes. If you want the earliest possible notice of where the next battleground will be, stick with us.

And if you want to make sure we can keep providing the same unique coverage of critical elections that too often get overlooked, we’d be grateful if you could start a $5 monthly recurring donation to support Daily Kos.


January 2024